the Maersks are good friends of mine

I’ve been taking sometime to focus on writing a comedy script. It’s the first time I’ve been lucky enough to have nothing else to distract and because of that I was able to get a new draft done. This chance to be reclusive is what I’ve been wanting for so long. Which is why it’s taken me a few days to release why I’ve been feeling so off since finishing the draft. 

On Friday I finished the eighteen page outline of a six part series. It’s part of the self produced comedy series, MELLOWING, I’ve been making with my main man Matthew Gundel. Up until now we’ve been doing one episode at a time. Just doing that was a real challenge. This time I thought it would be a good idea to write a bunch all at once.

I’ve just sat down almost every morning and plodded through it. By going deeper into the characters and stories (past drafts were all plot, just a bunch of things that were happening) I’ve opened a Maersk shipping container full of cans of worms. Worms everywhere. Just you wait until the Maersk’s hear about this. Disgusting.

The writing itself was isolating in a deep work, trance state sort of a way. It was fulfilling. I loved it. What followed was isolating in a different way. There was a complete absence of any external positive affirmation. No one clapped or even smiled because I was sat on my own the way all good isolated people should be. I tried to celebrate myself but just felt rubbish. I tried reading it to people but it’s a vomit draft mess that only I understand so that only led to tears. Maybe I should be celebrating the fact that I seem to finally enjoy the process more than the result? That alone should tell me I just need to carry on.

moments that matter

I got the starkest sense today of who I really am in the moments that matter. Those moments when you find who you are really. Times of great emotional peaks or when opportunities present themselves for you to be brave. Who am I in those moments? 

It’s not about who you think you are when you are full of adrenaline after leaving a Bourne movie. That feeling of I could if I had to. Just waiting moments worthy of greatness to present themselves. 

Today I found out. I proposed to my girlfriend. I’ve seen the movies. Every single one. I know how it’s supposed to happen. 

No one tells you that when you kneel you immediately find out the floor isn’t made for knees. If go down too hard you are basically just firing your knee at a hard surface like a cannonball. You’re going to have to pretend it doesn’t hurt. 

No one tells you there’s every chance your girlfriend may think you’re pretending and you may have to really spell it out. 

No one tells you that you may start going on and on about your ring choice because to worry over that is far less likely to make you completely break down than mentioning anything in anyway related to love or meaning or life or this other person sitting in front of you. 

No one tells you that on saying the words ‘will you marry me?’ your voice breaks and you begin to cry. 

The things you don’t get practise for are when you find out who you are. It turns outs I’m a blustering, blubbering mess. Thankfully she’s okay with that. 

Keep Going:- 10 ways to stay creative in good times and bad by Austin Kleon (2019)

Austin Kleon writes the books he needs to read. What a beautiful way of going about your life. Making the things you need for yourself and then seeing who else they resonate with. That is the opening idea of his new book, Keep Going:- 10 ways to stay creative in good times and badby Austin Kleon (2019).

I have bought his first book for at least 8 friends. Maybe more. It is a simple book. Kleon never uses a word or an image that isn’t absolutely necessary. He is a fantastic editor of his own work. His illustrations are pared back and he works by collecting and then subtracting. This is exhibited in his visual art. He is a specialist in a form of poetry and art making called Blackout. He takes pieces of newspaper and blacks out all the words he doesn’t need. 

His blog and his newsletter were inspirations for this blog as was his book, Show Your Work. Although it has taken my years to apply the message. I don’t see a lot of people being as open as Kleon with their process. He is extremely generous. Seeing and reading his work gives me confidence and energy every time. Too often you will read a book that is full of wisdom on how you should approach life but the only achievement of the author is to write a book. Kleon is constantly creating and the books are perfectly edited collections of what he has learned along the way. 

my take on things

Up until now this blog involves me going about my thought patterns and every now and again stopping to type some of them out into the notes app on my iPhone. Ralph Waldo Emerson eat your heart out. I’m kidding Ralph. It was a joke. No, Ralph, what are you doing? Stop! Ahhhhhhh!!!

Naturally I am plagued with the constant wholly founded belief that what I’m saying is neither interesting nor useful. Yesterday I was listening to the Armchair Expert interview with Hassan Minhaj and he talked about something he learned during his Daily Show days. Essentially the host Dax Sheppard asked him if there was a ‘secret sauce’ recipe he took away from working at that show. No doubt he wanted to get some idea of why so many successful writer performers come out of there (or he just likes secrets). 

Minhaj stated very clearly what it was (making it no longer secret - it’s just sauce now). He said that ‘your take on any given subject is more important than the jokes’. This resonated with me, someone who is learning to write non fiction and develop a stronger belief in the value of my own subjective experience. So if you need me I’ll just be typing my take on things into this notes app and will keep doing so until it’s completely full. Get ready to be crushed under the weight of my takes.

rain on the window = dancing in the clubs 

If I think about my love for dance music that love rapidly depletes. It makes no sense. You arrive places and stand and dance and other people are there. All of you smiling like goons or trying to act cool (also like goons). You can’t think through a situation like that and come out the other side with it making sense. 

I have to remind my self I used to lie in my bed at nine years old in the converted attic room I loved. My window facing directly out on to outer space. As I lay there I could spend child hours (minutes or maybe days in adult time) frozen in pure joy by the sound of the rain on the window. I didn’t wonder why. Why question it?

Thats what I go back to when, me, a DJ and someone who makes dance music from time to time questions what the FFFF I am doing. What is the point of making sounds in one place and sharing those sounds with others in different times and places. It seems a very long winded way to connect and be seen. 

Thats when I try and get back to not thinking. You don’t question the comfort you get from the sound of rain on the window, you don’t question why a sunset is pretty and you don’t question why hugs are nice. They just are. I can think my self out of liking any thing by saying it doesn’t make intellectual sense but it doesn’t leave me any better off.

letting your standards get in the way

I’m weeks away from attending a music composition ‘bootcamp’ in France with a group of musicians and one of my musical heroes. I was asked to send some of my own music ahead of time for him to listen to. It’s so he can get an idea of what I do. I haven’t sent anything yet. 

Our taste often exceed our abilities. Ira Glass spoke about this during his video class in storytelling. The words were turned into a really fun short video. His advice is keep to going through that early phase were your killer taste far exceeds your not yet killer output. 

The only approach I’ve found that works is to generate a large quantity of attempts. Then every now and again you invariably make something pretty good. Almost by accident. In the run up to this camp I decided that I’d finally learn from past mistakes (trying for ages to make one great thing) and instead started making lots of little pieces fast. One of my teachers tried telling me to do this years ago. The word he would repeat was ‘VAMOS!’. ‘Work faster’ he told me. 

1-3 hours max to make a beat, loop or an ambient thing built around a Whatsapp voicenote vocal. No matter what happens I finish and post it as a demo on Soundcloud. Even if in that moment I feel it’s bad. It puts me in a position where I don’t have time to even realise, for example, how much better Flying Lotus is than me at making music. When you’re going slowly little thoughts like that have a habit of creeping in. The pressure of knowing you have to post it can help too. The fear of embarrassment is strong in this one. 

The results have been fascinating. I’ve shared these ‘micros’ with collaborators and they’ve all had different favourites. I’ve been shocked at which ones they’ve picked. The ones I thought were my best barely register. Once people mention which they like I’m finally able to listen to them again free of any anxiety. I realise that often I think I don’t like something I‘ve made because I’m too busy feeling too vulnerable or unsure. Your brain is tuned to hyper critical when you’re finishing something. If someone’s likes it even a little bit that feeling goes away and I’m able to see things clearer. 

Our Mellowing web series is another example of this. If I’d tried to perfect that first sketch script we did I would still be working on it. We certainly would not have filmed four short films by now. Every time we made one I learned and improved in ways I couldn’t have from books, videos or isolated obsessive rewrites. Maybe I could have learned as much intellectually from shadowing a hero fo mine for a while but, at the time, there wasn’t any danger of that happening. 

my first gig

My first DJ gig was set up to go as badly as it possibly could. I was seventeen and my best friend at the time was the same age but had already been DJIng in clubs for three years already. His Dad was the go-to school disco DJ in our part of Newcastle. I had seen him doing his thing since I was around nine years old. He would kill it every school dance we had. He had the ability to stop the boys from running in circles and punching each other and actually get them to dance with girls. Mad ability.

They both had gigs this one night but had somehow double booked themselves. One cocktail bar in central Newcastle was going to go DJ-less unless they found someone. I can only assume they tried everyone they could before they decided to ask me. They did not take me there and show me what equipment I would be using and they certainly did not tell me what was on any of the CDs they kindly supplied me with. They just sent me there and told me it would be easy. 

Using up all of the young person delusion I could muster I went and started. What followed may have been the worst DJ set to ever occur on planet Earth. It took me the first two hours of what should have been a six hour set to figure out how to do things like open the CD player, press play, press stop etc. I had no idea that DJs were allowed to use their headphones to listen to tracks before they played them. I would just play songs from the CDs completely randomly. 

This wasn’t an underground thing. I wasn’t banging out any deep stuff. The best track you’d play in place like this would be Jermaine Stewart - ‘we don’t have to take our clothes off to have a good time’. I always worried about Jermaine. What situations was he finding himself in where he ended up saying that phrase so often he decided to make a song about it. 

The lowest point came around four hours in. It had been going about as badly as it could up until then. I had no idea why a member of security didn’t remove me. I played another track from the start like I had been the whole night. There was no mixing. I am not even sure I knew what mixing was at this point. Every track just had to start and play from beat one. No fading in or out or anything like that. Huge gaps in between too. 

I am sure those things were possible on the Fisher Price level set up I was given but I wasn’t even at Fisher Price level at that point. So I played a track from the start that I thought I knew. Except it was a remix.

It was Bob Sinclar’s Feel For You but the Erick Morillo remix. It started and just repeated ‘I can…. can you, I can…. can you’. I thought the CD was skipping so after 20 or so seconds I stopped it and started it all over again. I did that maybe three times before I realised that that was just how this particular remix began. 90 seconds non stop of ‘I can… can you’. It is meant to be like that so you can mix this cool little vocal sample onto the end of whatever you were playing before hand. 

By stopping and restarting, sweating profusely all the while, I had subjected this bar to four straight minutes of ‘I can… can you’. By that point I was nearing nervous breakdown so I packed up the stuff and pretended that I was told I was only playing until midnight. The poor bar manager had no idea what had hit him. He asked me to play the last hour as agreed. I lied and said I had another gig elsewhere. The least believable lie maybe ever. The bar fell silent which was a huge improvement on the noise I was making and I ran away. 

standards

In his interview with Marc Maron actor Jon Bernthal talks about the need to have a vision in your mind of what true excellence is whatever you are trying to do. I don’t really believe too much in rating how ‘well’ you are doing in relation to others but I do think that looking to the best stuff you can for guidance is helpful. Even if it means you could spend a lifetime trying to match up. The point being you can’t let the scene or group you are in or adjacent to but what you consider the standard of work you will be happy with. You need a much more inspiring vision in your mind and you aim for that. You may be lucky and be a part of some cosmically divine scene like CBGBs, early Canadian Second City or my Nana’s church coffee morning circle. Maybe, but probably not! What drives people to push for a crazy level of quality in their work? My best guess is vengeance. 

my anxiety was a meme 

My self diagnoses are always on trend. If I am feeling any vague sense of malaise coming on and at the same time Lyme’s disease, just for example, is having a moment I’m going to start thinking I have Lyme’s disease. I won’t even Google what it is or why they’re spelling Lime wrong. I will just decide that that’s my life now. I think that’s how I caught anxiety in 2015. I was primed by everyone talking about it and all the memes. I decided whatever sense of disconnection and unhappiness I was feeling must be anxiety. The revelation itself gave me anxiety so it had to be true. Anxiety and introversion became somewhere between meme and fashionable. It became cool to proclaim yourself introverted in a world that become too fucking much all the time. My anxiety, whether it was real or imagined or a bit of both, carried on for several years and only recently have I got a handle on it. For the first two years of living in Berlin for example I felt seriously anxious. Sometimes my heart would pound and I would break out into cold sweats. I was sure everyone around me was just as anxious and they were just hiding it better. It turned out I just needed to chill on the coffee.

theo parrish in a zone

DJing is 99% preparation. You hear a track separately to the moment you share it with an audience. You call upon the memory of that track and decide whether or not it is correct for that moment. You think ‘oh that one would be good right now’ and then cue it up. Sometimes this is specific and you think of a track name and sometimes more abstract. For me I always think of tracks in terms of colours, I’ll think ‘Ooooh that pinkish green one could work right now!’.

A vinyl turntable has an immediacy in that your heart is contacted to the hand that would cue up the record. It was all happening in one physical realm. Connected. With CDJs there are noughts and ones between your heart and mind and the cueing process and then more noughts and ones between what you play and what comes out of the speakers.

There’s a separation and I believe in some subconscious or perhaps psychoacoustic level that is felt or missed by the listener when it’s not there. Every time I have floated this concept to others DJ they usually get angry.

I think that’s why I find the DJing of Theo Parrish so visceral. His use of a rotary mixer connects his heart directly to your ear drums. His feeling comes from wherever feeling comes from, flows through him and then out through the equipment. It’s one thing all happening at once. 

so many things you could be doing

Right now I’m writing a six part series. I’d say that it requires all of my attention but really it requires about ten times my attention.

An interesting thing happens every time things get tough creatively. It comes more regularly when I’m feeling incapable. I start to think of all the intensive improv courses I could take or all the stand up open mics I could sign up for or all the venues and promoters I could pitch myself to as a DJ. The idea of doing these things feels particularly vivid and exciting in that moment. It also feels a lot safer than pushing on with what I’m doing. 

I think about all the ways I’m stupid for not doing these things right this second and why I should totally just drop what I’m doing right now (ie. writing this script).

It tells me to run to these other things when it’s really trying to get me to run away from what I’ve already committed myself to. I have to constantly bring myself back to focus on the task in hand again and again and again. 

hardware vs software

If only there was a way you could buy life lessons off the shelf so you could skip learning them yourself. Electronic music is full of contrarians. So naturally there’s been an obsession with hardware instruments since the advent of software instruments. But they’re really not for everyone. For some it’s ends more of a pointless chore requiring constant laborious maintenance and the non stop purchase of connector widgets. 

Right now we have everything out on our balcony for dusting. Dusting shouldn’t be a part of your creative process but somehow it’s become a big part of ours. You don’t know if a hardware set up is for you until you try it but it’s an expensive experiment.

IMG_9302.JPG

This past year we got ourself a big studio with the hope of exploring a midi/synth hardware set up. I had all these dreams of creating a musical machine. The dream was to try creating a baby version of what Minilogue did in their legendary Resident Advisor studio videos.

It wasn’t until I tried it that I realised it just wasn’t me. I’m not a technical person or someone who is particularly interested engineering or systems. I really just like little ideas. Getting them down fast and often and then choosing the best of them. Then I work on expanding those out with other people who can do things I can’t (like play instruments for example). 

Right now I’m in the process of selling a lot of the stuff we invested in for that studio experiment. I wish I could click my fingers and all of it could just to be sorted. The only problem with that is that I might not learn the lesson. If I could do that I’d probably forget this whole thing. Within months I’d be looking for another a bigger, cooler new studio. 

could the netflix model work for a social media platform?

Would you pay €9.99* per month for a non poisonous Facebook? The algorithms on these sites are not made for the user. They’re designed to get you to click and therefore naturally default to showing you anything that’ll get you fired up. Outrageousness, cuteness or the rarer cute outrageousness work best. I want to give a better company my money so I can become the customer. If you’re not paying for a product, you are the product.

*I wrote €5.99 at first but the clever buggers who price these products have slowly gotten us comfortable with sly price hikes. 

meaning tailspin

When life gets a little tougher (like it has for every person living in London that makes less than 40kpa) it’s natural that as a creative freelancer you’ll have to start thinking a little more strategically about where you can bring in money. If this has to happen fast it can send you into a bit of a ‘meaning’ tailspin. 

The focus will be on attaining, whether it be clients, paid invoices or money from Peter to pay Paul. All very short term. The immediate effect is you lose sight not only of how you make money (by doing things for others) and start thinking about how you can get people to do what you want. As a creative this is DEATH. Soon your gears will start grinding. Everything will come to a stop. 

On the face of it it seems like it makes sense. I need money so I need to get people to give me money but money is a symptom. If you’re a graphic designer for example, you don’t get money directly. You build a reputation and relationships. These lead to jobs which in turn you’re paid for. 

So that struggling graphic designer should really be focused on reputation and relationships. The only way to build on either of these is through helping others. 

Which is why being under financial stress is such a downward spiral. It takes immense strength to build positive relationships when you’re worried about paying the rent. Your brain is focused on what you want when all meaning and meaningful success comes through acts of service. 

the steve martin delusion

Steve Martin said ‘Through the years, I have learned that there is no harm in charging oneself up with delusions between moments of valid inspiration’.  Today was one those days. As I write the next episodes of Mellowing (our comedy web series) I am in delusion overdrive. 

The dream is to make something that does not survive on laughs alone. Not that we don’t love laughs. Quite the opposite- we do love laughs. We want mystery and twists and turns and all the rest. On top of that we will try to make it as funny as possible.

Right now though I don’t exactly feel capable of the task in hand. As with most things you attempt creatively I’ve never really done this before. I’ve talked about it a lot and I’ve watched pretty much every film from the genre. I just don’t know if I have the ability to create a story with that level of excitement or narrative drive.

But for some reason you just keep going. It’s a weird superpower to have. The ability to be hyper self critical whilst simultaneously utterly deluding yourself into thinking you’re an undiscovered genius. It’s not even as if those modes alternate, taking a day or so each. Both personalities are present constantly! 

dust

In 2015 I was living in Whitechapel, London. The rate of development going all around our block of flats was jaw dropping. There was more than one occasion when I’d be walking somewhere I’d walked many times before and I’d lose my way. The street would have changed. A huge building would have been demolished or built seemingly overnight and I wouldn’t recognise it.

When we moved in we had a 280 degree view of London. South, east and north. We’d go up on this huge roof that all 200 flats shared. No one would ever be up there. About a year in a building was built across the way and it took around 40 degrees of the view. Soon after another development took the whole of south London. 

Around the same time I was noticing I was getting hellos and making connections in the community around the house. For the first time in fourteen years of London. It scared me because I knew that like every apartment I’d had in London before I’d get priced out within 12-24 months and would have to move. It was like clockwork.

I always tried to not let the idea of gentrification effect me. I’ve seen years of Conservative governments with next to no regard for the less fortunate. I was just being realistic. They were never going to put poorer people ahead of a rich person. I was also part of the cause. One of many hipster idiots that will move to certain areas and pay too much rent once the coffee gets good.

This time it effected me in a new way. I couldn’t breathe. I’d wake up in the middle of the night coughing so painfully. It went on for months. I wasn’t sure what was causing it. I thought it was anxiety at first but that’s the awful thing about breathing. When you can’t breathe well you get anxious which in turn negatively effects your breathing.

Eventually i figured out it was being caused by pollution. The rate of development around my apartment was so extreme that the air was 90% brick. 

I never spoke to anyone or complained about the brick dust. I really should have started campaigning for cleaner air. I can’t have been the only one struggling. I regret hugely that I didn’t take any action. 

I remember that I could only go jogging if I wore a mask. I looked like Bane. Occasionally I’d have to stop mid run to rest. Not uncommon when you can’t breathe. The thing is you can’t really stop running when you’re sweating, dressed in all black and wearing a mask. If you do you really freak people out. 

outcome or output

One change I made in my life helps keeps me sane. It’s when I shifted from being outcome oriented to output oriented. My goals were all to do with who I could get to pick me or see me as special. It wasn’t built on anything of value. 

I was just climbing little ladders. After a while I’d realise I wasn’t where I wanted to be. I’d go back down that ladder and find another one. At best it was one big process of elimination. Every time I’d achieve a goal or get an opportunity I’d find myself feeling quite empty. 

I’m not sure when or why I changed my mind but a few years back I had moved to Berlin and there wasn’t really anything I could achieve here through playing the angles. I decided instead I’d just choose a few things I wanted to create (films, music, shows) and then assign a realistic but challenging number and I’d spend all year just trying to make that many. 

It helped. It shifted my thinking away from the idea of success or making the perfect thing and instead I focused on the process. 

where are all the inventors?

The tech world chases its tail. It’s mostly a false economy going through a prolonged gold rush. We use digital products each day but a microscopic fraction of those that are developed or attempted actually make it into human hands. 

The design process of prototyping, iteration and user testing is team based so a lot of interesting discovery gets missed. Naturally you’re trying to impress each other and your boss so you miss the little clues that lead to discovery. Most design teams are just attempting to re-do what successful companies have done before. Turning potential inventors and craftspeople into photocopy machines. 

If you’re not feeling some discomfort or fear you’re not pushing yourself. Inventors have to live in that uncomfortable space. The whole design process has taken the fear out of creating. Real inventors learn about the code, the chemicals, the electronics, wood, plastics, all of it - because deeper understanding leads to discovery of interesting links. The stuff other people not as deep into the problem would not have seen. 

i’m pretty sure I ran a cult when I was 9

I’m pretty sure I ran a cult when I was 9. It was called KAP5000. I think I added the 5000 to evoke future. The whole thing was based on a points system. Gain points and you’d move up the ranks. I rarely do anything without points attached. I love them points. I lost all respect for my followers after a while. One class mate/cult member called Jonathan earned so many points that I ran out of ranks to give him. In the end I just had to give him the cult.

off the peg opinions

Ever meet a friend for a chat and all of a sudden they have a brand new opinion? As they tell you about it they get louder and louder and seem more and more sure of themselves. You start to question whether you know this person at all. When were they ever this sure of anything? You’ve no idea how the conversation got here. You certainly didn’t tee them up. It all just got crowbarred in. Maybe this whole catch up friend date was set up so this person you thought you knew could half shout this already fully formed opinion at you? You didn’t even know they knew or cared about this subject. Let alone care THIS DAMN MUCH. You certainly didn’t expect them to research it all so thoroughly. Then you go home and you watch John Oliver too.